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Continued: Cycling pride propels rain gear maker

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 21, 2011 - 10:13 PM

Cycling apparel maker Adam Ziskin hopes Minneapolis' momentum as the country's most bike-friendly city will drive sales of his O2 Rainwear and its new City of Lakes-inspired designs.

Ziskin, owner of Minneapolis-based Rain Shield Inc., has made a conscious effort to incorporate the Twin Cities and its cycling scene as he has refreshed his brand and product lineup this year.

The Minneapolis skyline now adorns his redesigned website and the tags on Rain Shield's O2 Rainwear gear. Further, two of the city's famous bodies of water inspired the names of his new jacket-and-pants series, the midrange Calhoun and the top-end Nokomis.

"Going into this year, I focused on being super-proud of our bike culture here and thinking that even the Twin Cities and Minneapolis is almost a brand in cycling," Ziskin said. "That was my framework when developing the look and feel and the design of everything. Most people outside the Twin Cities aren't going to know ... but it's still a nod to being proud of that."

Ziskin said the new line offers the best performance and best value of anything he has designed. While he's expecting a strong fall, 2011 sales may not meet last year's $2 million or pre-recession levels, said Ziskin, who since 2004 has had sole ownership of the company, founded with three partners and investments from two venture capital firms in 1997. It is a lean operation with only one other full-time employee.

As an accessory, rain gear takes even more effort to sell at a time when bike manufacturers are putting more demands on dealers, he said. O2 Rainwear is available in 1,000 cycling shops nationwide and through many retailers' websites and the company's own site.

"We're excited and not worried about it," Ziskin said of the company's post-recession prospects. "We've seen a slow climb back. Everything is being well received. The economy just adds another hurdle. In this market, survival is key and we're easily going to do that."

Rain Shield has long had a niche in breathable, affordable rain gear because of its exclusive rights to those high-performance fabrics. Its original jacket retails for $30 to $35 and historically nothing topped $100 before this year. The Calhoun jacket retails for $120, the Nokomis $180 to $190.

"Cyclists and runners are the earliest adapters," Ziskin said. "You learn that in Marketing 101. These are the people that get the attributes, that will pay a little more.''

The new models have gotten positive reviews from cycling magazines, bloggers and local retailers.

The Nokomis model is outselling all other rain jackets at Penn Cycle's Minneapolis shop, manager Tim Larson said.

"It has been my No. 1 rain jacket this year," Larson said. "It's a great, solid piece. That's what commuters are looking for: a great-looking, functional outer piece. It's nice to have a local company, who spends a lot of time on their bike with a product that is really geared toward the riding community."

Calhoun Cycle owner Luke Breen credited Ziskin with creating the market for waterproof, breathable yet inexpensive rain gear for bicyclists.

"With any of the O2 products, you're looking at good value," Breen said.

To help stay competitive, Ziskin a few years ago moved production from this country to China, where U.S.-made fabric is assembled into O2 Rainwear's pants and jackets. Ziskin said he would like to bring production back to the U.S. but his research shows that possibility is still a few years away from happening.

Running a lean operation has been important as Ziskin has faced higher manufacturing costs in China. He communicates almost daily with his factory there, between yearly visits, and often sees factory representatives at trade shows in this country. Costs for petroleum-based raw fabrics have gone up as oil prices have risen.

Ziskin's plans for O2 Rainwear include developing designs specifically for female cyclists and introducing more affordable pieces.

The expert says: Bob Freytag, president of Minneapolis integrated branding and communications agency Introworks, said Ziskin's strategy of drawing inspiration from the strong local biking community is a good one.

Branding is about connecting with your audience. The next step, after developing a product to meet their needs, is to reflect the core essence of that product through compelling stories, he said.

"As the brand continues to build momentum, we'd recommend they really tap into the emotional drivers of these cyclists," Freytag said. "Why do they roll out of bed at 5 a.m. to ride their bikes on a cold, rainy day before work? That's what they're selling. And the best brands tell their stories with simple, clear messages.

Avinash Malshe, associate marketing professor at the University of St. Thomas' Opus College of Business, said segmenting the market -- developing products specifically for women or children -- is a growth strategy for Ziskin to consider, Malshe said. A wider range of offerings could increase his bargaining power when seeking the attention of retailers and distributors.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.

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